The Space We Occupy

My sister Andrea has spent the morning researching our family’s roots in Germany, Switzerland and France, in turn educating me on the interesting findings she’s uncovered. As it turns out, our family occupies a not-so-small bit of space in the world. Here’s a bit of what she’s shared:

Firstly, a direct ancestor of ours opened the Kresge chain of grocery shops, which eventually developed into the K-Mart chain of retail stores. Yay, big capitalism!

Secondly, my grandparents shared common ancestors that aren’t quite as far back in the family line as we’d wish they were. Yay, incest!

There’s a town in the Catskills that’s named after an ancestor of mine.

And lastly, my grandfather participated in D-Day, though he originally enlisted in the Air Force, in his own words, for the “excellent recreational activities… pool/billiards, volleyball, basketball, softball” which were apparently “unavailable otherwise.” His group was assigned the first mission of the day on June 6th, 1944. He went on to fly 62 missions in France and Belgium.

And before all of this, he moved 34 times and changed schools 28 times before graduating from high school. There’s so much to talk about.

A Blast From the Past

I’ve been reading a lot recently on literacy narratives, chronicles of time and transformation in which writers reflect on their past experiences reading, writing and communicating in conversation with others.  I’m intrigued with what I might find myself writing were I to begin a literacy narrative project, especially considering my literacy, as it stands, is only just in its infantile stages of development.  Today, for example, I had the opportunity to sit down with an associate professor at Syracuse University for half an hour to discuss publication, PhD programs and the world of writing and rhetoric.  The conversation, frankly, changed my outlook on my own literacy and, now that I think on it, my own personal narrative as a writer and a scholar.

So, here’s a link to my own literacy narrative published in The Crystallize Review way back in May of 2015.  Excuse the existentialism present in its opening (and closing) lines (and middle lines, too, ugh)– I was big into Sartre and Camus at the time.  I still am.

Here’s to always questioning our own literacies, and to writing reflectively about our relationships to knowledge, reading and writing themselves.

Writing and Mindfulness

Writing and Mindfulness

I first encountered meditation during the spring semester of my senior year of college.  A group of twenty or so of us sat in a two-tiered circle, red and blue light shimmering inside from the interfaith center’s stained glass windows, as a philosophy professor/smiling mystic led us in breathing exercises.  These exercises relaxed our group of early-20’s non-Buddhists, set a tone and a mood for the mid-morning class session, and were followed by some tai chi and finally fifteen minutes of focused stretching and meditation.  They were, looking back, one of the most peculiar and most productive aspects of my entire undergraduate experience.

I moved away that summer, first to Massachusetts and then to Buffalo, New York.  In each place, I brought my meditation pillow along with me, stuffing it into suitcases whose finite space it filled half of. In Buffalo, I entered graduate school. My daily habits reading and writing improved during this time. In fact, this was when I first developed a real understanding of what it meant to consciously fill my day with the parts of my life that meant to the most to me一 see here.  My mindfulness habits, however, fell off almost completely. I don’t mean to say they’d even really developed in the first place, as meditation was something I would do once a week during class and then fail to find the time for on subsequent weekdays, but once I entered graduate school the meditation pillow became permanently stuffed underneath my bed, little more than a prop in a story to tell guests when they entered the confines of the room.

At the NeMLA conference I attended in Baltimore last weekend, I caught a number of sessions within my chosen field of writing, composition and rhetorical study.  The panels dealt with a range of topics一 smartphone communication, syntactic instruction, classroom collaboration, online learning groupwork, food-writing communities, public writing initiatives, even emoji linguistics and emoji poetry. One can’t go wrong with any of these panels, and the people leading many of them were outgoing, well-informed and happy to answer my questions on their respective topics (and as a burgeoning scholar, I had plenty of questions, which I did not hesitate to ask).  The panel that struck me most, though, taking into account my current and future profession of teaching college writing and composition, was a panel on mindfulness, meditative mind exercises and their intersection with the craft of writing.

My approach to teaching writing is to walk my students slowly through a continuum of skills: exploring and discovering what’s out there and what we already know, brainstorming ideas, organizing topics and details, researching thoroughly, sitting down at a desk, opening up a Google Doc (I require my students to write in this mode, as we utilize a Chrome extension tool called Draftback to track our writing habits), and then, as we inevitably will do, typing haphazardly and semi-focusedly as we ease ourselves into the abyss of, as Anne Lamott would say, our “shitty first drafts.”

Indeed, I oftentimes feel this is the one aspect of writing instruction I occasionally fail my students in.  How do I teach them to visualize a composition that fulfills all of their goals, and then to make it happen, to piece a project together? I attempt this through project-based learning. I can lecture on MLA format and in-text citations with ease. I can fix syntax and semantic errors in a jiffy. I can lead next-level conversations on ethos, pathos and logos, and I can introduce my students to writers even more informative than I.  I can talk all day about the craft of writing一 if you ask my students, they’ll tell you that I often do.  But how do I help my students enter the “flow” that getting words down on the page of your “shitty first draft” requires?

Writing is thinking, but it’s far more than that. How might we teach the mindstate that a steady, sustained outpouring of words requires? How does one develop “intuition” in the craft of writing?

There have been a number of so-called “turns” in rhetoric and composition. I think our field has a particular penchant for them, actually.  My recent interests are in the “public turn” and the “apocalyptic turn” that Paul Lynch, among others, have written about in the age of the anthropocene.

The surge in interest in the public humanities, in neuroscience, in interdisciplinary work within the study of writing and writing communities is of tremendous interest (and excitement) to me.  A former teacher of mine incorporated implicit elements of mindfulness into his class sessions.  His influence on my teaching has been substantial, and have led to my own experimentation with focused, guided thinking in my own classrooms. Though he never came out and directly stated it, there was clear and decisive focus on freewriting, freethinking, contemplation, journaling, reflection, questioning, communicative thinking, inclusive group construction, and contemplation of music and art within his classes. I now build my classes, a few years later, on this type of model.

This isn’t a “take your shoes off when you enter and light a few candles” type of mindfulness initiative. It’s deeper, more substantial, more valuable than that.  It’s thinking-oriented. We aren’t concerned with appearances or aesthetics or with giving our students funny stories of their wacko professors to tell their friends about. Instead, our focus is on asking our students to connect the intuition of their interior lives with the words (worlds) on their pages of writing. Moving in this direction, bridging this gap a bit over the course of a semester, is the ultimate goal.  

A recent panel at CCCC’s in Portland (Rhet/Comp’s largest conference) tackled the emerging theorem of mindfulness in the writing classroom.  A panel at NeMLA that I participated in explored the topic as well. Steve Shoemaker spoke very elegantly about the “neuroturn” in metacognition and mindfulness in his own research and classrooms, as well as about his attempts to instill a “focused-but-relaxed” mindstate in his his students as they enter the writing act. Neuroplasticity, the human brain’s magnificent and breathtaking ability to rewire and reconfigure itself, requires practice and repetition.  Shoemaker enlists freewriting exercises in his classroom to make this happen.  Another scholar-teacher on the panel, Natalie Mera Ford, incorporates a “friday freespace” writing activity into her curricula in which students write creatively, reflectively and without restriction in a notebook separate from anything they do elsewhere in the class.  Rachel Spear opens some of her classes with a short yoga exercise activity; when performed once, it’s a gimmick and isn’t especially productive, but when repeated time and time again, it seems to make an impression on students, especially those in STEM-oriented fields who aren’t normally asked to discuss emotions, feelings and mindsets in their writing.  

I teach at an athletically-minded school, and my typical classes aren’t composed of English or humanities majors. Regardless, we find ways to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom each day and do our best to weave it into the act of writing itself.  Writing is a craft that’s intertwined with mindfulness, though not how the uninitiated reader might expect: it’s a craft of controlled breathing as often as it is of sudden bursts of revelatory insight; of piecing together coarse and jagged paragraph fragments as often as it’s a steady flow, a Zen-like trance; of writing banality as often as it is of writing insight, stimulus, arousals.

I’ve become interested lately in neuroscience, particularly on interpersonal neurobiology, how our social relationships shape our brains.  Kirke Olsen explores this topic in her book The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience and Mindfulness in Schools, which I suggest wholeheartedly for anyone interested in the subject.  Incorporating mindfulness, both explicitly and implicitly (more of what I’ve been doing with my classrooms) into the teaching of writing is a means of teaching our students a variety of difficult thought elements, but I’ve found it particularly helpful in one specific area: personal intuition, vital for student growth and empowerment.

Vanderbilt University maintains an excellent website on contemplative pedagogy for incorporating mindfulness into the daily class meeting. For further reading, I’d suggest giving their site a visit.  Otherwise, I love talking about this stuff.  Get at me.

I’m done writing for the morning (the watch on my nightstand says it’s 8:21AM).  In a few minutes, I’ll prop myself down on the floor, stretch, and tap on my muscles with my fists as my old philosophy teacher once instructed me to do.  

I’ll be sitting quietly, doing nothing.  I may write again after.  I will likely be in the mood for it.

Writing The Academy

Lots of work within rhetoric and composition has been put into examining the intersection of gender and writing in higher education over the past thirty years. I can’t summarize it here, but instead I’ll steer the mindful and attentive reader(s) toward the work of Gwendolyn Pough, whose published articles I’ve been moving through lately, and leave it at that for now.  The following paragraphs won’t directly engage with any sort of scholarship, but, I don’t know. This is where my mind has been wandering to lately. Anyways, onward.

This coming May, my younger sister will graduate with an M.S. in Public Health from a four-year institution in Rochester, New York.  I like to joke that I’m disappointed I can no longer call myself the most successful of the Richter siblings, as my sister will have the option to include letters after her name after she becomes certified (no small accomplishment!). However, underneath some very meaningful feelings of brotherly and familial pride, which I won’t expound upon here, are a few central points I’d like to draw attention to that come to mind when examining my sister’s journey working (and writing) her way through the academy.

A portrait of this particular writer would not be fair without acknowledging her tremendous growth as an individual, as a student, and as a scholar. She’s talented, humble and strong. She’s quiet, though far less so than even a year ago. She’s a communicator.  She’s direct and concise in speaking. She’s practical, pragmatic, and understands the motivations of others.

She recently penned a grant to improve the public health situation on her campus, which was selected for funding from a vast and competitive field of proposals.

A question is raised in my mind when I think of her, one I’ve been turning over in my head for the past few weeks after a discussion at a recent conference: How do we teach our students to think of themselves as intellectuals? 

Why do we not ask our students, at the conclusion of their undergraduate career, to return back to their past courses, writings, projects, notes, tests, and syllabi, and review for the world the exact components of their education? What did they get from it? What do they carry with them as they walk down those podium steps at graduation?

Why not ask our students to venture a few answers to a second vital question, one that goes a long ways toward answering the first: What skills do I have to offer the world?

This is all brought up from a series of Facetime sessions my sister and I shared in which we edited her CV and a cover letter through Google Docs together. For my sister, I’m not sure there was always a clear answers present in her mind to these percipient questions. It makes me a proud brother, as someone equipped with inside knowledge on her social, economic and educational background, to report that in only the past few weeks I’ve noticed a distinct leap forward in these areas.

In her voice over the mobile device, I heard a tone of engagement and active participation; in her body, an eagerness, a leaning-forward action; in her vision for the respective compositions, a real grasping of her audience, a true sense of exigency and purpose, an impressive eye for style, arrangement, and unity.

The brother within me glowed. The rhetorician within me smiled. But the intellectual within me left the table to ponder. Something had changed in her. Some sense of herself as a professional was present, which hadn’t been on display during previous conversations.  What change has she undergone?

The answer is obvious. She’d always been an intellectual, but only lately has she become aware of it and been able to talk about it.

Suddenly, I find myself admiring her, three years my junior, and realize we’re all only a few conversations away from re-inventing ourselves as humans, as writers, as thinkers.

How might we work toward this with all of our students?

Go Left, Young Writers!

One of my favorite writers, the  Depression-era labor theorist and literary organizer Mike Gold, called upon the young writers of his day to stand boldly against passivity, to dare to speak and make their voices known, to audaciously demand an audience and to demand that audience’s attention.  Gold writes “the best and newest thing a young writer can now do in America, if he has the vigor and the guts, is to go leftward” (1929).  He calls on these writers to voice the concerns of the unregarded, to articulate their experiences in their own vocabularies, to assert their perspectives as not only relevant and valuable, but as prized productions of American identity, working-class struggle, amid changing social systems and circumstances.

Gold’s words remain pertinent even now, when once again the young people, the energized, the empowered, the angry, are forced to lead the transition into a better democracy.

We’re witnessing a 3-4 year period that will be principally defined by the success and the sustainability of the era’s young writers and the antiTrumpian rhetorics they generate and cultivate.

If young writers hope to see any sort of concrete social result in their lifetimes— I’m talking about election wins, bills passed, vocabularies written into law— they must forgo the feel-good “we’re content with slow social change” route the left has taken over the past thirty years.  The progress we’ve made here is astounding— gay marriage, improvement in the lives of working women, lessening the racial gap (this one’s tenuous), etc.  are true achievements.  They haven’t however, addressed income inequality.  The left has abandoned the working poor.  The left has taken too much corporate money, and as Bernie Sanders and his surrogate Cornell West reminded us during last year’s primary, is just as dependent on it as conservatives ever were. The left has embraced neoliberalism, which simultaneously seems to be both dying and thriving.

So, here’s a call on young writers: document your experiences in airports, at rallies, in high-school bathrooms.  Tell the world your story, whether it be through Instagram post, through editorial, through a Tweet, through live video, through newspaper writing, through writing letters.  Assemble yourselves— organize. Summon the vigor.  Summon the guts.

Ceaselessly draw attention to an administration that is morally bankrupt, an administration of false-consciousness that lies to its citizens at press briefings, that spins reality to its own PR interests, that calls attention every day to the sad fact that Americans were fooled last November, fooled decisively and irrevocably, and that the only course of action remaining if we hope to achieve a better society will be provided by the left. Just as we couldn’t keep living in the 1950’s socially, we cannot keep living in the 1980’s economically. Change is visible, but it’s up to the youth to make it tangible.

So, young writers, tackle the issues.  Fight for minimum wage. March for your adjunct professors. Congratulate your regional representative when she pledges to not accept money from pharmaceuticals and fossil fuel corporations. Yell and scream and demand your voice be heard. Make America Great (like it never has been before).

Go left, young writers!

 

Distance Learning Epistemologies

A reading of Elizabeth Losh’s 2014 book The War On Learning uncovers many interesting and provocative challenges on the trend toward “distance learning” popular among many institutions of higher education in recent years.  Modern universities, which Siva Vaidhyanathan has characterized as being remarkably “willing to experiment” within realms of knowledge and content delivery, have in recent years taped lectures from tenured, full-time faculty members and reproduced them online.  Some are posted on the university’s official website, while others are uploaded to YouTube, Twitter and other social media webspaces. It is here that a bridge must be crossed between the standards of success valued in traditional academic venues and those culturally practiced in social web settings.  Social web practices, repeated informally over and over in casual and participatory settings like social media sites, are again repeated when students engage in use of new media within an academic context.  It is my argument that I wish to outline here, and I think Losh might agree with this point, that online learning pedagogies in many of their incarnations do not pay close enough attention to deliberately re-training social web rhetorical practices students use outside of the classroom to properly fit the learning outcomes the courses seek to disseminate.

Social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, function as part of what Losh labels as the “attention economy.” Clicks, page views, shares and site visits represent a modern currency in which popularity, rather than physical or even digital money, functions as revenue.  Online posts and webtexts often are understood within these environments where popularity is typically considered the primary metric of success. “Likes” are desirable.  Comments are desirable.  Positive engagement is desirable.

Here, Losh asks a provocative and illuminating series of questions that inquire into the true, de-facto goals, targets and designs of the modern research university.  She targets recent online-fad videos, one in which a professor is clearly inebriated while performing a lecture and another in which a professor orates an emotion-laden narrative of his battle with cancer, which he eventually relates, a bit vaguely, to his academic field of human-computer interaction.  The professor drops to the floor and does push-ups onstage.  He spends half an hour describing his adventurous and non-traditional admission into Brown University.  He parades a photograph of himself posing with comedian William Shatner.

The implication is that neither lecture, whatever the demonstrated values and rhetorical techniques appearing in their accompanying online video, demonstrates effective knowledge conveyance that will meaningfully impact students’ lives.

Losh asks: “How will lecture videos that are entertaining be judged in comparison with those that are informational? How will those that use academic evidence be judged in comparison with those that contain stirring testimony and personal revelations from the faculty member’s own life?” (Losh 87).

Losh questions whether these viral videos, for as useful as they are for engaging the public and spreading optimism, engage in an appropriate level of engagement with scholarly practices of research, critical thinking, scientific demonstration, and analysis and representation of data. Collegiate lectures at an institution as distinguished as Carnegie Mellon become a spectacle of pathos and autobiographical achievement in these viral videos, which  Losh contends are “packaged with a string bow and commoditized as mass-market motivational reading.”

The trouble, when it comes to online distance-learning lecture videos, is that positive engagement becomes easier to achieve and more obvious for display (valuable to increasingly value-crunched institutions) when the delivered content is friendlier, easier to handle, accessible and uncomplicated, and laden with emotion.  There is often, and I would like to stress that this is in no way always the case, the expectation that blogs will have readers, that videos will have viewers and that posted material with have a demanding audience. Too often, likability equates to success for a video at the expense of demonstrated critical thinking.

A clash of values hovers into focus when values of attention and entertainment, measured quantitatively through clicks, “likes” and views, becomes the standard on how we judge an academic lecture.  Values of likability fostered on social media platforms designate sympathy, understanding and rapport for the posted content, but less often and less clearly demonstrate that critical thought, contemplation, contextualization and synthesis have been achieved by the viewer with the delivered material.  Yes, viewers may remember these vivid and theatrical lectures, but what exactly is it that they are remembering?  Is it the class material they remember, or is the optimism, the animation, the drama?

The aim for a successful college lecture is, to me, the transfer to students of specific and synthesized knowledge from a particular field through deliberate, targeted strategies designed to shape students into empowered disciplinary actors.

Institutions of higher education often strive for student recruitment and brand advertisement when posting online. This extends to the recorded college lecture, where a university image is presented by a talking head who seeks to grab the attention of potential students, cultural writers and members of the pubic.

Quality educational lectures are not mutually-exclusive with entertaining ones, but we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap that they necessarily need to be one and the same.  The fear for me, and many others in higher education as well, is that the corporate drive of the modern research university to expand and proliferate resources will cause administrators to value attention-grabbing research initiatives rather than ones that are valuable for more traditional reasons.

MOOC platforms like Coursera also generally are judged by how popular they are rather than the quality of the education they provide, at least within popular circles.  In many cases in which success is measured by corporate and budget-justifying standards, it is quantitative analysis that takes the forefront rather than qualitative inquiry.

An interesting, newer practice is detailed in a recent article of The Chronicle of Higher Education in which two psychology professors at UT Austin conducted what they call the first SMOC, meaning synchronous massive online course.  The professors, Samuel D. Gosling and James W. Pennebaker, lecture with a camera in the room that livestreams their small-room sessions and class programming to a much-larger online audience. In any given class session, 20 or so students are present inside of the room while approximately 800 other class members tune in from dorm room desks, coffee shop couches and mobile phones, perhaps even at the airport on mobile devices while on their way home for the winter holidays.  The professors do not make use of a formal textbook, but rather rely upon selections from online sources such as Wikipedia, YouTube, TED and other websites from around the world.  They also do not give out standard knowledge-intake exams, but rather quiz using “benchmarks” at the beginning of each lecture.  They maintain a class Twitter account with its own hashtag to integrate students into a multimedia classroom experience that strives for learning from all angles.

The idea, for Gosling and Pennebaker, is that a smaller and more-personal class will improve the distance-learning experience and quality of received instruction for the hundreds viewing from outside the classroom as well as for the instructor teaching the course. It’s a step in the right direction, but how we re-train social web practices that have become internalized for our students within new medias for practice in the online classroom will go a long way towards facilitating a functioning, feasible and competitive learning environment within higher education as we know it today.

References:

Losh, Elizabeth.  “The War On Learning.”  The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.  2014. Print.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva.  “The Classroom as a Sacred Space- Siva Vaidhyanathan.” Web, 2010.http://fora.tv/2010/04/21/Siva_Vaidhyanathan_The_Classroom_Is_Sacred#fullprogram.

Mangan, Katherine.  “The Personal Lecture: How to Make Big Classes Feel Small.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Web, 4 December 2016.  http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Personal-Lecture/238559

Gosling, Samuel D. and James W. Pennebaker.  “Psychology 301: Introductory Psychology– Syllabus.” Web. https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/psy301201642210.pdf

Dissenting Voice(s)

Here’s a small snippet of the final chapter of my MA thesis “Dissenting Voice(s),”  in which I look at social media, Anonymous/Wikileaks hacktivism and the implications of intensified blending of the personal and the political:

The human-tool interaction, in the case of social medias like YouTube, is one of publication, of announcement, of transmittal to some imagined public.  Procedures inherent in online social medias extend to the user a relationship affirmed through participation online—the affordance of a broadcastable voice, of listeners and responses, of discussion, conversation and reception. The assemblage invites collaboration, and steers collaborations toward contrast—specifically, political differences that become visibly apparent in seemingly-objective spaces like the standard social media interface.

Comparative Media Studies

I’d like to address the topic of Comparative Media Studies, a field N. Katherine Hayles introduces early in her 2012 book How We Think and that she revisits periodically throughout the progression of her arguments in the book.

Hayles draws on a variety of examples where Comparative Media Studies (CMS from here on) is integrated into a collegiate seminar, with varying outcomes and implications (8).  Hayles advocates CMS as a means understand and critique complex problems, as alternate strategies that, depending on circumstances, can provide new avenues for creativity, resourcefulness and ingenuity that we did not have access to with methods limited to print technologies.  If we are to accept this argument, we encounter a gap between scholars who readily engage new medias and those who hesitate to do so, or who do so in an ineffective manner.  Hayles asserts CMS as a bridge between traditional print-based scholarship fields (she references periodizations such as eighteenth century prose,   race and gender studies, post-colonial inquiries, etc) and new medias that may open up new realms of scholarship.  For example, I would argue the Assassin’s Creed franchise might occupy a similar cultural position as Robinson Crusoe in a certain lens, as fictions reflecting the values, assumptions and relations of a specific group of people. A project looking at post-colonial politics of a video game might benefit from screen recordings, sound clips, screenshots, interface examples, etc. similar to how presentations on 1920’s American culture might reference/include jazz recordings. Video scholarship is obviously a strong and growing type of criticism, but I don’t know if always carries the same institutional prestige as the published, peer-reviewed print essay.   We’re being irresponsible as scholars if we limit ourselves to the affordances of one medium, are we not?

An interdisciplinary approach affords the most flexibility, the fewest limitations and the most room for invention.  The merging of medias into a cohesive project follows the logic of Hayles’ call for a move from “content orientation of problem orientation,” more commonly found in the Digital Humanities.  She provides many benefits of this scholarship mode, such as increased collaboration, blending of skills and backgrounds, theory/practice convergences and, perhaps most convincingly, a simple plea for the “productive work of making.”  She carries these ideas forward with references to similar fields like platform studies, critical code studies, procedural rhetoric examinations and “cultural analysis” that draws insight from large datasets and databases (8).

I found ch.4 of Hayles’ to be the most stimulating, though I grew frustrated with the direction of the chapter, which introduced incredibly productive ideas (technical elements/individuals/ensembles, extended cognition, technological unconscious, neuroscience as it interacts with free-will, rewriting of neural pathways by media interfaces, the impact media saturation might have on a child’s mind…) but then generally oriented them toward an argument of temporalities, which was interesting but not exceedingly so.  She states:

“Nigel Thrift (2005) argues that contemporary technical infrastructures, especially networked and programmable machines, are catalyzing a shift in the technological unconscious, that is, the actions, expectations, and anticipations that have become so habitual they are “automatized,” sinking below conscious awareness while still being integrated into bodily routines carried on without conscious awareness” (96).

How has this changed the writing process? Hayles spends some time examining how the telegraph changed communication practices and even the concept of the human in the 19th century. Nietzsche famously commented on the impact the typewriter had on his writing, which had previously been limited to hand-writing. I’m wondering- how has the “backspace” option altered the print essay? What about flipping between web pages, the instant accessibility of data (Google searches). How do they impact an individual’s conception of language, an individual’s attention span, their working memory?  Hayles points to faster image processing and more complicated narrative structures as two possible outcomes, along with the hyper reading discussed in ch. 3, but there are surely more.  Let’s speculate- an increased desire to share (such as on social media platforms); a reconfiguration of relationship and companionship dynamics (instead of talking about a problem, posting about it on Facebook); an increased ability to juggle multiple information streams; an increased likelihood to instantly dismiss something without thinking about it (such as a pop-up ad); new objects of sentimentality (becoming attached to a Neopet or Pokemon); an increased exposure to foreign ideas.  How has memory, which Proust tells us is a deeply unconscious act, been changed by social media? What about memory as a rhetorical canon of persuasion, argumentation, communication? What about Google Earth, the interface Hayles mentions in ch. 6, altering our sense of place, space, even our sense of direction, size and our relationship to foreignness?

Birth Of The Authors

The following is the abstract to JD Richter’s MA Thesis, written at the University at Buffalo: “Birth of the Authors: Digital Collaboration, Electrate Invention and the Dissenting Voice.”

Abstract:

Rhetorical invention occurring in the sphere of the social web increasingly takes on the form of collaborators working in tandem with one another to compose and construct. Poststructural theorists traced notions of authorship through Platonic and modernist histories to contemporary, ecologically-informed conceptions that prove the Romantic myth of the solitary inventor acting in isolation to be a manufactured farce. Locating 21st century authorship between loci of Gregory Ulmer’s proposition of electracy as a successor to literacy and Roland Barthes’ conceptual Death of the Author, this thesis argues web invention to be an inherently collaborative exercise characterized by ecological, socially-conscious procedures and behaviors.

Web invention refuses to conform to the procedures of other mediums, developing its own distinct and unique practices. New technologies offer new avenues for cultural expression that detach themselves from traditional domains and instead take on new, unpredictable lives of their own. A practice of particular relevancy within electrate invention is moderation, an agreement between collaborators wherein the construction of more-desirable webtexts is achieved through community censorship, surveillance and content policing.

Similarly, social web spaces extend political action into realms of online sharing, liking, commenting, remixing, and profile representation. Collaboratively-authored webtexts express ideological values across multi-layered procedures, practices and behaviors, all the while conditioning users to contribute content, emotions and reactions that are politically and socially charged.

As interactions typical of the social web demonstrate, the assemblage forged between humans and nonhuman tools makes collaboration essential for the construction of webtexts, altering rhetorical invention and imposing a newfound emphasis on social ecologies within the invention process.